Stars: Training camp preview

By Geoffrey Ussery

The 2003 offseason has been a quiet one by
traditional standards for the Stars. Usually one of the first teams to
run
out
and grab free agents, the Stars instead signed only minor-league
caliber
players
like Jarrod Skalde and Rob Valicevic, and let prominent players, such as
Derian
Hatcher, Kirk Muller, and Ulf Dahlen move on to other
teams.
The
defensive corps is looking different than it has for many seasons when
Hatcher’s
departure and swap of Darryl Sydor for Teppo
Numminen are combined. The impetus of both was to try to limit the
number
of
long contracts to non-vital players so that payroll could be limited
and
spots
for prospects could be opened up.

Still, the Stars have a good group of
experienced
players heading into the NHL preseason. There is still some room for
prospects
to make some noise, but the open spots are not very
numerous.

Prospect Signings

The Stars quiet offseason at the level of the big club has been mirrored in their few prospect signings. To be fair, however,
most
of
the Stars quality prospects are playing in Europe and would be better
served
by
remaining there for the time being. However, during the offseason, the
Stars
did
sign four prospects, with two of them being rather high profile, to
entry
contracts. In May, Dallas inked WHL standout and 2002 fifth round pick
David
Bararuk
. There was again a quiet period leading up to the IIHF
mandated
deadline to sign European players under contract when, at the last
minute,
the
Stars came to agreements with SM-Liiga MVP Antti Miettinen and
Swedish
right winger Mathias Tjärnqvist. The final signing came in
August
when
the Stars inked UN-Omaha goaltender Dan Ellis. In addition,
during
the
summer, John Erskine was re-signed to a one-year
contract.

Camp Outlook

With the Stars roster
being
nearly full already,there is not much room for prospects to make an
impact.
Here
is the roster
of
the players taking part in training
camp
.

The forward positions are nearly full
going
into
camp. Already, the Stars have 14 forwards who played in the NHL last
season
on
their active roster. However, some role players, like
Claude
Lemieux, are not guaranteed roster spots. If any one of those players
on the
bubble is outperformed in camp, it is possible that their relationship
with
Dallas will be over. Top prospect Steve Ott was one of those
players
who
played in the NHL last season that is not guaranteed a spot. He trained
very
hard over the summer and is determined to make the Stars roster out of
camp.
Out
of the prospects competing for a spot, he is the most likely to stick
to the
roster because of his play last season in the NHL and desire to
compete.

A few other forwards should also push
for a
spot
at camp. The most notable of this crop are recent signees Antti
Miettinen
and
Mathias Tjärnqvist. With the pool of natural left wings rather shallow
for
the
Stars, Miettinen may be able to earn himself a spot on the team.
However,
Miettinen must prove that he is capable on the smaller ice at the
faster
pace of
the NHL. He has a good chance to stick, especially if one of the
competing
veterans falls down on the job. Even if he were returned to Utah, he
will
probably see a little NHL action this year.

Tjärnqvist is a wild card
at
camp.
As a right wing, he is buried under many other players, but his
relatively
old
age for a prospect and physical style may make him very attractive as a
player
to be used immediately on the lower lines. He has more to prove than a
player
like Miettinen would, but Tjärnqvist is in the mix as well. However,
Tjärnqvist has a better chance of playing in Utah.

The other prospect
in the
mix would be Barrett Heisten. Heisten has a big hill to climb
after
he
forgettable 2002-03 season, but with an extremely strong camp, he could
latch on
to the roster as well. Recently graduated prospects Steve Gainey and
Marcus
Kristoffersson could push for a spot as well.

The situation with the defense is even
more
set
than that of the forwards. The Stars roster contains seven players who
saw
NHL
action last year. Only one of those players, prospect John Erskine,
does not
really have a secure spot. Likely, the players in competition for that
spot
are
Erskine and the skilled Trevor Daley. Erskine has a little bit
of an
inside edge with his more physical game since the Stars got weaker on
the
blueline over the summer. However, Daley was a part of several training
exercises over the summer and could have progressed far enough to
threaten
Erskine’s hold on the spot. However, Daley is more likely to be
starting his
professional career in the AHL. On the outside looking in for the
battle at
this
spot are AHL stalwarts like Jeff MacMillan and Dan
Jancevski
.

Unless Marty Turco decides to go on an
extended
holdout, the Stars situation in goal will not give any prospects a
chance at
the
NHL club. Turco and Ron Tugnutt are clearly the two goaltenders
expected to
play
in the NHL. However, if Turco’s contract cannot be worked out soon, it
could
open the door for a young goaltender to get some NHL experience.
Likely, it
would be Jason Bacashihua, but Mike Smith could force the
issue
and sneak past the former first round pick. In the end, the training
camp in
Utah should be a three-way fight for two goalie positions between
Bacashihua,
Smith, and Dan Ellis, with Ellis lagging a little behind the
others
because of his lack of professional experience.

Free Agent Invitees

The
Stars have invited nine free agents to attend their camp. Out of the nine
invited
players, Rob Hisey, Brett Lutes, Warren Peters, and Chris St. Jacques
posted
very good offensive numbers in their previous junior seasons. The
invited
players and their positions are listed below.

Shawn Degange, G
Rob Hisey, C

Drew
Larman, RW

Brett Lutes, LW
Tyrell Moulton, D
Luke Pelham, LW

Warren
Peters, C
Chris St.
Jacques, C
Chris Schlenker, D

European Prospect News

Overseas, the preseasons are winding
down,
and
the elite leagues are about to start their campaigns. Through the
course of
the
preseasons in Finland and Sweden, the Stars have had a few prospects
put
together very good performances.

In Sweden, the most productive players
were
forwards Yared Hagos, Joel Lundqvist, and Loui
Eriksson
.
Hagos, just returning to the SEL after a year in the second tier, had a
relatively slow start to the preseason offensively but exploded towards
the
end,
posting several goals and assists for Timrå. Like Hagos, Lundqvist did
not
have
a great start to the preseason, but managed to establish his game later
on
in
the preseason. Because of the strength of his 2002-03 season, Lundqvist
was
nominated to Sweden’s team for the Ceska Pojistovna Cup, where he was
pointless
in three games. Eriksson, the first selection in the 2003 Entry Draft
by
Dallas,
has shown admirable scoring touch for Frölunda in the preseason,
cementing a
spot on the SEL club. Throughout the offseason, Eriksson has also
competed
for
Sweden’s U20 team, and his scoring has been important to the team’s
success.
He
led Sweden in scoring at Lake Placid in August but did not fare so well
at
the
Four Nations U20 tournament in Russia. In the second tier league,
Marius
Holtet
has managed to post a few points for Bofors, some of them on
the
power play. Forward Janos Vas has not returned to action yet,
but
expectations are that he could return to the ice within a month under
ideal
conditions.

Next door in Finland, the biggest noise
has
come
from forward Jussi Jokinen. After returning from Dallas, Jokinen
rejoined
Kärpät and played in the team’s first two preseason contests, in which
he
recorded an eye-opening three goals and four assists. In late August,
Jokinen
was selected for Finland’s Ceska Pojistovna Cup team. In his first
Eurotour
event, Jokinen managed a single assist, but Finland went on to win the
tournament. The other remaining Finnish standouts among Stars
prospects,
Tuomas
Mikkonen
and Jarkko A. Immonen, have been hampered by
injuries.

Preseason Schedule

The Stars have eight games in their
preseason
schedule. Three are played on the road, and five are played at home in
Dallas.
The schedule follows below.

Sept. 18: Away vs. Colorado
Sept.
19:
Home vs. NY
Rangers
Sept. 20: Away vs. St. Louis
Sept. 23: Home vs. St.
Louis

Sept. 25: Away
vs. Chicago
Sept. 27: Home vs. Detroit
Oct. 2: Home vs.
Colorado

Oct. 4: Home
vs. Chicago

New ECHL Affiliation

With the Lexington Men O’War going defunct, the Stars
signed an
agreement to provide players to the Idaho Steelheads. The Steelheads were in the WCHL, but the two AA leagues merged and they are now in Pacific Division of the ECHL. Among those
expected
to
start the season with the Steelheads is goalie prospect Dan
Ellis.

Discuss this story on the Hockey’s Future Message Boards.